Wine-shop owners get big props for holding their tongues during the last week of December, the only time many people think to head to the sparkling-wine shelf (and about a quarter of all bubbly is sold).
“[Sparkling wines] are super-flexible wines with palate-cleansing properties, and they go with a lot of different foods,” said Michael Amendola, wine director of The Village Wine Merchant in Sea Cliff. (Amendola enjoys them with fried chicken, in particular.)
But since “Champagne” and “New Year’s Eve” are synonymous for many, here’s a mini-primer on less expensive but equally alluring alternatives for ball-drop bubbly.
First, know that only sparkling wine made in France’s Champagne region can be called Champagne (aka champers), one element that bumps up its cost; another is that it’s made via the traditional method — méthode champenoise or méthode traditionelle — that involves at least a 15-month second bottle fermentation. (Those bottles, in turn, are turned by hand for a few weeks before they’re disgorged and corked.)
The result can be sublime, and also pricey, “but nothing matches the complexity, breed and focus of Champagne,” notes Amendola.
One key is to look for bubbles made in similar fashion but elsewhere, such as in France’s Loire Valley (these wines are called crémant), Spain (most cava) and California; just look for “méthode traditionelle” or “traditional method” on the label. (Prosecco is carbonated a different way, lending it bigger, bouncier bubbles.) Amendola carries a $19 sparkler from France’s Burgundy region, for instance — the Bailly-Lapierre Crémant de Bourgogne Brut Reserve — that “is really close to Champagne” in profile, he said. “It’s expressive and tart, with great acidity.”
Richard Mora of Mora’s Wine and Spirits in East Setauket notes that we have solid sparklers made close to home — specifically, on the North Fork. “I’m a big fan of local wine, and Sparkling Pointe [in Southold] and Wölffer [Estate, in Sagaponack] both make great méthode champenoise wines,” said Mora. “We have the perfect climate and grow the right grapes [pinot noir and chardonnay].”
Mora carries the 2015 Sparkling Point Brut, a crisp, toasty wine with pearlike underpinnings, for $30; he also carries Wolffer’s Noblesse Oblige 2014, for $37. “It’s extra brut, with outstanding texture.”
For my money, I’ll be reaching for Franciacorta — a traditional-method Italian alternative to prosecco made from the same grapes and also in the traditional style, and that I’ll keep on hand all year.